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With Mitchell, it's more than a title

So often in the past, it has been a ceremonial title. At one time, it was bestowed by an NFL team not wanting to lose an assistant coach in a lateral move that probably included a pay raise. Other times it was given to a position coach as recognition for years of faithful service, or sometimes as a way to alert the outside world that he was someone ready to take the next step up the coaching ladder.

Assistant head coach.

Kind of like being the Vice President without the direct line of succession. And in the NFL, the title usually was accompanied by a “slash,” with what follows the “slash” being the guy’s actual job.

For the past 11 years, John Mitchell has carried the assistant head coach title, and in the meantime he was doing what he had been doing for the Steelers since 1994, which was coaching the defensive line. But now, with the Steelers having hired Karl Dunbar to coach the defensive line, Mitchell will become the title he has carried since 2007. He will be Mike Tomlin’s assistant.

“It’s a unique position that requires unique skill-sets and relationships and time spent and understanding,” said Mike Tomlin. “And quite frankly, John Mitchell is the position. His unique service to this organization and the men who have played here, plus his understanding of this organization and its relationship to the community, plus how he can help these guys to grow and have a positive impact on the community all are important elements of this position. And it’s an important element of him being assigned to this position. I know the type of man John Mitchell is. I know he is going to take tremendous pride and detail and attack this new work, and I think it’s going to add value to our cause in some very tangible ways. But I also think there are going to be some great unintended positive consequences of him acting in this role.”

The origin of this job can be traced to college football, with a couple of examples of men currently doing this job being Bob Junko at Pitt and Woody McCorvey at Clemson. It’s usually a guy the head coach respects greatly, maybe a mentor at one time, and typically the assistant head coach is someone who has enough tenure and bonafides to be able to tell the head coach some hardcore truths.

Tomlin envisions Mitchell being a guy who will handle a variety of things, for example the day-to-day management of the staff when the head coach is on the road, either attending the Senior Bowl or the Scouting Combine or Pro Days, or handling Competition Committee business at the NFL Owners Meeting. Or during most of the month of April, when Tomlin spends all day every day in the draft room going over college prospects with the personnel department.

“During the critical first 90 days of each new season, I’m not (available),” said Tomlin. “We have to do a better job of managing and developing and training staff. He will oversee that in my absence.”

Mitchell also will assist Terry Cousin in the player development area, and his experience and contacts within the community will lessen the need for the head coach to have to deal with a lot of minutiae, such as involving himself in vouching for players in the process of buying a car or buying a house or other similar real-life issues. Mitchell and Cousin will form a mini-department designed to meet the needs of current players, and again, it will be Mitchell’s experience and contacts within the community making him the point man.

The assistant head coach also will be charged with adding value and structure to the team’s relationship with former players. Within this task will be the creation of a data base that will include everybody who played even a snap for the Steelers since Tomlin was hired in 2007, and this data base will allow for communication between the team and those players as well as allowing for the possibility of those players communicating with each other. The idea behind this is to allow the Steelers to be in a better position to assist them in their lives beyond their playing days. Connect the dots continually through a guy’s life, so to speak.

And finally, the assistant head coach will be directly involved in community relations as it relates to player participation, and he also will be charged with adding quality to the events that are already on the calendar, with the Rookie Dinner that’s held each year after the draft being just one example.

“We have to do a better job with former players,” said Tomlin. “We’re capable of doing a better job with current players, because the simpler we make their lives the more they’re going to be able to focus on football. John Mitchell has been a part of this community for a long time, so why would anybody on our football team buy a car, or look for a house, or try to buy insurance without stopping by John Mitchell’s office first?”

Now, they won’t.

Related News:

Dunbar named defensive line coach - Read More

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